Archive for the 'ireland' Category

the likeness, by tana french

I used to believe, bless my naive little heart, that I had something to offer the robbed dead. Not revenge—there’s no revenge in the world that could return the tiniest fraction of what they’ve lost—and not justice, whatever that means, but the one thing left to give them: the truth.

yatima’s mostly-nondenominational northern hemisphere midwinter festival playlist

2000 miles

“I can hear people singing,” (and since I’m not allowed to listen to this playlist until after Thanksgiving) “it must be” Northern Hemisphere Midwinter Festival “Time.” Chrissie Hynde wrote this after The Pretenders’ first lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of an overdose; as you’ll see, I like the sad carols. The ending of this song is sublimely 1980s; the band just repeats the chorus over and over until they end on a resounding chord. Jazz hands!

Chiron Beta Prime

So much for being nondenominational: because I’m a lapsed Anglican nerd, I sometimes wonder whether Jonathan Coulton (suspicious initials, those) named his protagonists the Andersons because it means “Son of Man” and whether he chose Chiron because Chi-Rho was a Greek monogram for Christ. That said, the song works equally well as an anticapitalist anthem, with the robot overlords representing limited liability corporations. Oh, and it’s hilarious.

Fairytale of New York

Mandatory, obvi. I usually start crying around “I could’ve been someone./ Well so could anyone.” Reminds me of when Rajit Singh returned our lost luggage and, years before that, when I met Shane MacGowan in Dublin, his broken teeth like tombstones on the red hills of his gums. I wish Kirsty MacColl were still alive.

Joy

This one makes me think of Jamey, who gave it to me, and of my mum, whose story it is. Tracey Thorn’s voice is a silver thread running through my marriage, from “Protection” as the anthem of our first year together to “Hatfield, 1980” for the summer we lived in Cambridge. Mum would have loved the lines: “We face down all the coming years/ And all that they destroy/ And in their face we throw our joy.” That was her basic rationale for all the mah jongg and Bailey’s.

River

Tracey’s Tinsel and Lights is such a great album that three tracks off it have landed on my playlist. This is a Joni Mitchell cover that earned its place for the lyrics: “I’m so hard to handle/ I’m selfish and I’m sad.” (No, YOU are.) I always think of Emma Thompson’s wonderful line from the mostly-reprehensible Love, Actually: “Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.”

Sister Winter

A Sufjan Stevens cover, but I heard Tracey’s version first so it’s definitive to me. I love the strangeness and sensuality of the lyrics – “I kissed your ankle” – and Sister Winter as darkness and heartbreak, but also as an intimate relation. I love the friends waiting patiently for the suffering heart to recover. Demeter and Persephone are here, and so is Jonathan Shay’s Odysseus in America with its call for the communalization of trauma.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Speaking of, that summer in Cambridge I wanted to hear the King’s College choir at last, but I was urged by a smiling Anglican to keep the girls behind the screen where we wouldn’t disturb the other congregants. Ah, the established church, ever eager to tuck its women and children away out of sight. Against that, though, set the pageant I attended at Holy Innocents in San Francisco, where the congregation discovered six-week-old Julia in her sling and urged me to take the role of Mary. I declined – I’m not that reconciled to my church damage – but I still have the tinsel crown Claire wore as a three-year-old angel. This strange old poem was given a mid-20thc setting by Elizabeth Poston. “It keeps my dying faith alive” – we’ll see, I guess.

Gaudete

Another silver thread through my life: My parents playing Steeleye Span when I was still too young to recognize the electric guitars and folk songs as incongruous with one another. Me carolling in York Street with the choir of Christchurch St Lawrence. Alex and I in Dublin discovering that we both loved this song. Maddy Pryor’s incredible voice was probably the prototype for my love for Kirsty Maccoll, Tracey Thorn and Vienna Teng. The ending of this song is ridiculously 1970s; the audio engineer just fades the choir out and you have to pretend that they’re walking away from you still singing.

O Holy Night

This one makes me think of Salome, because sometimes we read each others’ minds. Talk about incongruity, the ukuleles and xylophones making it sound like a school play. Yet everything that makes the Northern Hemisphere Midwinter Festival important to me is here: the long dark, the beloved dead, the newborn baby, the terrifying angels and their incomprehensible message. The star and our journey.

Atheist Christmas Carol

The newest addition, which I heard for the first time live on Boxing Day last year at the Freight & Salvage, with Claire in my arms. I gave this one to Tina after we rode our bikes to the Forest of Wind Chimes at Wilbur Hot Springs and cried for Jen. “It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind/ And knowing we are not alone in fear/ Not alone in the dark.” That’s all I got. Grace coming out of the void, for some reason. It’s so cold now but spring will come again. Not a metaphor: physics.

there was something about anarchy, i remember that much

Kirsty is a force of nature. I’ve been meaning to go up to Edinburgh since Alex and Ioanna moved there from Ireland years ago, but the details eluded me. When I mentioned it in passing to Kirsty the whole thing was organized in what seemed like sixty seconds. I flew in early for the London conference I come to every April, and Kirsty and I caught the train to Edinburgh.

The journey was gorgeous and fascinating. “Green and pleasant land,” I tweeted as we left London, then “dark Satanic Mills!” as we crossed the midlands and I saw four huge power stations (Eggborough and friends maybe?) belching steam into an otherwise cloudless sky. As we sped to Scotland we saw Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North (which I have loved since first seeing pictures of it and which came as a completely unexpected treat), beautiful steampunk Newcastle, Lindisfarne like something from a Miyazaki film or happy dream, the sun sparkling on the mouth of the Tweed at Berwick, and the looming bulk of the Torness Nuclear Plant.

Motion sickness got to me after a while. (The hangover from the night before probably didn’t help. That was Grant’s fault.) I thought I was going to hurl all over Waverley Station. I took my first steps in Scotland trying not to puke and telling myself “Don’t mention their accents don’t mention their accents,” so of course when I called Alex I blurted out “you sound very Irish.” I guess at least I didn’t vomit?

When I had recovered myself somewhat Kirsty and I had fun storming Edinburgh castle, and when we finally did make it to Alex’s house the awkwardness of nine years’ separation did not survive its first encounter with a pretty decent Sangiovese I’d brought out from California. Alex made osso buco. It was delicious. Ioanna is delightful and their daughter Lena is so best. We figured out how to fix capitalism but I didn’t write it down, so that’s a pity.

why be happy / are you my mother

Yes, they are both meditative middle-aged memoirs by great lesbian writers. Both dramatize the writer’s complicated relationship with her mother and both name-drop Woolf and Winnicott all over the damn place. And YES YOU HAVE TO READ THEM BOTH. I don’t care. Cancel your calls.

Henry James did no good when he said that Jane Austen wrote on four inches of ivory – i.e. tiny observant minutiae. Much the same was said of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. These things made me angry.

I love them at least in part because the NY Times gave Bechdel a shitty review that boils down to “These women! How dare they think their inner lives are interesting?” Therefore reading these books is exactly the same as jabbing a burnt stick into the eyes of the Four Boresmen of the Aborecalypse (Mailer, Bellow, Roth and Updike. Could those guys HAVE more cockish names?) And if that doesn’t make you want to read them I don’t know what will.

I was very often full of rage and despair. I was always lonely. In spite of all that I was and am in love with life.

I remember curling up in Books Upstairs in Dublin, right outside the gates of Trinity College, and reading Dykes to Watch Out For like it was going to save my life. I can’t have been in Ireland for more than a week. And I never connected with Winterson in the same way; I’ve never even seen Oranges. But this book! This book. It took me apart.

I know these are ways of surviving, but maybe a refusal, any refusal, to be broken lets in enough light and air to keep believing in the world – a dream of escape.

public service announcement

This is mainly for my Northern Hemispherical peeps, but in any case:

This was a hard year for so many of the people I love. For two of them, it was the last year. For the luckiest of my personfolk, it’s been a year of often-painful transformation. For others, it was a year of suffering and loss.

I just want to say: it is already over. We have turned the corner. Tomorrow morning the first light of dawn will shine into the 5000-year-old corbel-vaulted room at the heart of Newgrange. (Unless there’s cloud cover. NEVERTHELESS.) Much-longed-for new life is on its way. I will never not miss them, but my Uncle Arthur and Auntie Ruth will have a great-grandchild. Jen will have a grand-niece.

And that is why I love this time of year. This is NOT sentimentality. Nothing supernatural is involved. This is just the winter solstice. It’s physics.

five things make a thing made up of five things

1. It turns out that the reason it’s taken me this long to try to download audio books to my phone is because libraries have been tragically afflicted with an evil crippleware proprietary standard! Luckily there is also MP3, but establishing the extreme wrongness of WMA took a couple of hours of my life I will never see again. REVENGE.

2. Finally got off my ass and gave blood this morning. There’s a center right near Montgomery Station, and this morning I was the only donor there. They’ll disqualify you if you’ve ever so much as given the stinkeye to a British cow, which is ridic, but if you are as un-tattooed and monogamous and straight-acting and only-travelling-in-the-First-World, that is to say, if you are as BORING as me, go bleed into a bag. They give you muffins.

3. Last Friday morning I got to have a look at Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s offices, preserved exactly as they were when H and P retired, all Mad Men with wood panelling and windows onto a Japanese garden. Then I drove back to the city, where Liz gave me a guided tour of the Noisebridge hackerspace and I examined a Makerbot that was busy making new Makerbots. San Francisco is amazing.

4. The photos of Queen Elizabeth in Ireland are very strange to me for lots of reasons. The Queen looks more and more like my mother as she ages, to the point that the picture of her speaking in Dublin Castle actually raises recognition-hackles on the back of my neck; I have my own very vivid memories of the Book of Kells and Croke Park and the National Stud, and I don’t think I have ever seen the Queen in a place where I have been before; and I know enough history that my entire sympathies are with the protestors, with the security guards and the police, and with the Queen.

5. This week I like this Janelle Monae song, this Janelle Monae song (with a surprise cameo by Claude Debussy), this Olof Arnalds song (with a surprise cameo by Bjork), The Comic Book Guide to the Mission, Inside Wikileaks and, always, the great Ta-Nehisi Coates.

dirty ol town

Dad asked the fair question of why I didn’t mention Dublin in my big England-confuses-me post. Thing is I don’t really associate Trinity with Oxbridge any more. It wasn’t a consolation prize and I can’t believe I ever thought it was. It was a miraculous escape and the beginning of my adult life. I learned vi there, for God’s sake! I spent the night of the Ireland-Norway world cup match reading the first copy of Wired magazine I had ever seen! Rathmines, the Long Room, Ha’penny Bridge, the Winding Stair, Ormond Quay, Newgrange: all mine. Ireland made me. I am listening to the Pogues as I write.